Visual Anthology: The U.S. Drone Fleet

Jul 3, 2019 | 10:00 GMT

A picture showing U.S. sailors move an X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

U.S. Sailors move an X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, May 14, 2013.

(Stocktrek Images/Getty Images)

The Big Picture

Unmanned systems have carved out an essential niche in militaries the world over. Once a curious footnote to their manned brethren, remotely piloted vehicles are increasingly ubiquitous on the modern battlefield — and beyond. Although originally intended to function as surveillance platforms, the weaponization of unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (colloquially known as drones) has been ongoing for decades, with many larger systems able to deliver a payload with precision guidance. Drones offer a plethora of advantages, including rapid deployability, extended loiter times, cost-effectiveness and the ability to enter hostile environments without putting people at risk. Having operated drones such as the MQ-1 Predator since the mid-1990s, the United States is a pioneer of modern unmanned systems and has more experience than any other nation when it comes to employing armed and unarmed drones in combat. However, competition is fierce, and military planners and defense manufacturers are already earmarking significant budgets for research and development and acquisition. In this visual anthology, we take a look specifically at the unmanned aerial systems currently in service with the United States.

MQ-1 Predator

An MQ-1B Predator unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flies during training April 16, 2009, at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada.

RQ-4 Global Hawk

An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle sits on the flight line.

RQ-7B Shadow

A U.S. Marine Corps RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prepares to land at Speedbag Airfield near Niland, California.

MQ-8 Fire Scout

An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle takes off during flight operations aboard guided missile frigate USS Simpson on March 6, 2012, in the Gulf of Guinea.

MQ-9 Reaper

An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) taxis during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base on November 17, 2015, in Indian Springs, Nevada.

CQ-10 SnowGoose

Sean McCann, a representative of Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology, tells Marines at the UAV flight demonstration site at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., about his company's SnowGoose cargo drone.

RQ-21 Blackjack

RQ-21A small tactical unmanned air system (STUAS) in flight.

RQ-170 Sentinel

An artist's rendering of the RQ-170 Sentinel in flight.

Black Hornet Nano

Sgt. Scott Weaver poses with a tiny unmanned Black Hornet drone, used by allied forces in Afghanistan, Oct. 15, 2014.


Student Derek Snyder, a major in the U.S. Marines, works on a prototype quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the Unmanned Systems Laboratory at the Naval Postgraduate School on Sept. 30, 2011, in Monterey, California.


An Avenger unmanned aircraft system and inert ordnance sit on display on a tarmac at Palmdale, Calif., Aug. 8, 2012.